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WA households struggling to pay for electricity

7th Nov 2011

More Western Australians are requiring assistance to meet the increase in their electricity bills, according to new government figures.

More than 50 WA residents each day applied for the state government's Hardship Utility Grant Scheme (HUGS) - an incentive that sees customers credited with up to 85 per cent of their utility bill.

The figures - obtained by the opposition's Sue Ellery - show that 1,683 households applied for the grant in September, compared to 475 two years earlier.

"Furthermore, the amount of people receiving HUGS assistance to pay their electricity bills has nearly doubled in a year, from 4,413 people in 2009-10 to 8,154 people in the 2010-11 financial year," Ms Ellery said.

According to the opposition, there are a far greater number of households were stressed about their electricity bills - however many people preferring to go without rather than to ask for assistance.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg," state opposition leader Eric Ripper said.

"There are thousands more families really too proud to apply for HUGS assistance or are in some other way deterred from applying for assistance".

Child protection minister Robyn McSweeney - whose department administers the scheme - said the government had spent nearly $8 million on the scheme since 2008.

She said the scheme had recently been streamlined to enable more families to access help, but households should brace themselves for further increases.

"Unfortunately utilities do go up every year and it’s up to [the] government to put in schemes to help people cope with those rises"

Electricity prices in WA have experienced an increase of 57 per cent since 2009.

This news also comes after the state government instated a $0.07 cut-off to its Renewable Energy Buyback Scheme (REBS) in August.

The scheme was suspended primarily due to increasing costs - initial estimates had budgeted $127 million over the life of the scheme, while the 2011-2012 state budget had an estimated cost for this year of $6.7 million.

However, according to the Sustainable Energy Association of Australia (SEA) suspension is having little impact on the average rate-payers currently utilising a solar power system, with the majority of smaller systems still being cost effective.

Solar power is one of the leading renewable energy alternatives and households that install rooftop solar panels will find that they become more independent of the fluctuating electricity prices, easing the pressure on future household budgets.

Posted by Bob Dawson - News editor

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